Education Living gallery heading 1901: Living at the Time of the Census Living in 1901
A Political Football?What Did Children Learn?Pupils and Teachers*  

A Political Football?

The education system was in a state of crisis in 1901. One key issue was whether education beyond elementary level should be funded by the taxpayer and, if so, who should provide it. Also at issue was the increasingly desperate financial situation of many voluntary or church (mostly Church of England) schools.

Secondary education?
After vigorous expansion of state education in the second half of the 19th century, basic instruction in the '3 Rs' - reading, writing and arithmetic - was available (although not necessarily free) to most children over the age of five. But was this enough in a changing society in which Britain's foreign competitors, such as Germany, seemed to be providing a wider range of secondary and technical education

Some local school boards, which were responsible for rate-funded elementary schools, had already started to provide limited secondary education, developing higher grade schools and adult education classes. The Public Libraries Act of 1901 was also an important boost to those seeking access to learning. Yet not everyone thought that universal secondary education should be funded by the taxpayer; and this issue was tested when the London School Board was accused of illegal expenditure on secondary education. In April 1901, the court case concluded when the Court of Appeal ruled that the education provided by school boards had to be confined to elementary education for children aged between 5 and 15.

'The Raw Material' - link to an enlarged version
The case for adult education - link to an enlarged version

The following year, government policy moved in the opposite direction from this judgement, with the passing of the 1902 Education Act. This established the basic framework of education administration that lasted until 1944, abolishing school boards and placing schools under the newly-created Local Education Authorities (LEAs), which were mostly county and county borough councils.

The 1902 Act allowed LEAs to fund secondary education. Only a minority of pupils were able to take advantage of this, however, as secondary schools often charged fees.

Follow this link for more on secondary education.

Church and state
The Conservative government was also concerned to prop up Church of England schools, many of which were in crisis by 1901 because their subscription-based income could not compete with that of the non-sectarian board schools, which were funded by local rates. The 1902 Act introduced rate funding for secular education in church schools, despite some opposition to 'Rome on the rates' in some areas, notably Wales. In 1900, just over 34% of all elementary schools were provided by school boards or local councils and nearly 53% by the Church of England, with a further 5.7% being Roman Catholic. By 1984, the proportion of state schools had nearly doubled to 65% while that of the Church of England had fallen to 24.7%, although the proportion of Roman Catholic schools had also risen, to 9.6%.